by Crystal Crawford and Lindsey Lucas
Last week we discussed what, exactly, editors want. This week, The Mochila Review staff held a Q&A session with Editor-in-Chief Dr. Marianne Kunkel to get to the heart of what it means to be an editor.
Q: What does being an editor actually entail? Describe a typical day.
Dr. K: Being an editor requires holding a lot of information in my head at one time! In a typical day, I’m working to produce a top-rate issue of The Mochila Review, and that begins with getting high-quality submissions from undergraduate students. To that end, I work with my staff to make our website more accessible and exciting, to publicize our journal on social media and in emails to instructors of undergraduate writers, and to create initiatives that will appeal to and help our audience—such as our Undergraduate MoRe Prize, judged this year by Taylor Mali, and our soon-to-be-live podcast. I want the process to be one of mutual discovery: talented student writers discover us, and we discover them.
Q: Prior to this job, you were managing editor of Prairie Schooner. How has it been a different experience moving to The Mochila Review?
MK: The two journals are different, yes, but many of the same principles apply. Every editor is looking for ways to meaningfully engage with technology, and so both my time at Prairie Schooner and The Mochila Review have involved creating a podcast, using social media, and building a dynamic website from the ground up. One difference between the two journals is that Mochila is a journal specifically for undergraduate students, and it’s been a lot of fun to brainstorm the best ways to reach that unique audience. Lastly, I’m no longer a managing editor but an editor-in-chief. I’ve had to learn to fight old habits and leave certain tasks to my talented managing editor, Crystal Crawford.
Q: What do you look for in a submission? Or, what makes you immediately turn something down?
MK: I love submissions that seem first and foremost to care about there being an element of risk or surprise. When a sense of adventure is the guiding force, I know something electric is happening. This can be a poem about the moon, remember—there are already so many poems about the moon—as long as the author does something new with it. An immediate turn-off for me is any kind of hate speech that’s there simply to be hateful.
Q: What are some of your goals (or, what is your long-term vision) for this journal?
MK: It seems to me that the role of an undergraduate journal has to be slightly different than that of other literary journals. It’s exciting that in the pages of Mochila, we can usher in the next generation of famous writers—the next Langston Hughes, or Sylvia Plath, or Margaret Atwood. I’d like to do more to keep up with our contributors after they graduate and move on to MFA programs, teaching gigs, or other professions by creating a “Where are They Now?” feature on our website or email newsletters. Another goal is for Mochila to become a dynamic, multimedia resource for undergraduate writers; through our podcast, website, social media, and the journal itself, I’d like to offer helpful information about publishing, reading work aloud, creating an author website, applying to graduate programs, and more.
Q: What do you expect out of your staff?
MK: I didn’t know what to expect at first, and working with them these last few weeks has taught me I can expect a lot out of them! Crystal, Chris, Lindsey, Nicole, Adriann, and Hanna (and Kayla, our art intern) are all so talented and enthusiastic to make Mochila something truly special. Because of their inspiring commitment to the journal, I’ve come to expect that they contribute good ideas, that they work outside the realm of what they think is possible for the journal, that they keep up with their editorial duties, and that they read each submission thoughtfully and respectfully. I couldn’t ask for a better staff.
Q: What is the most difficult part of being an editor?
MK: No matter how many times I send rejections, it never gets easier. I’d say, too, that working with an author to improve his/her piece, and getting stuck in the muck of revision—when the language isn’t getting better and neither the author or editor can quite fix it—is a difficult spot to be in. Sharing an author’s vision for a piece is a powerful sense of ownership, but an editor has to know when to believe in something and when to move on.
Q: What is the best part of being an editor?
MK: Getting to read the good work that others are producing. I can’t imagine going back to the vacuum I lived in before I began editing and was a writer only. I would read, sure, but not to the degree that I do now. And the work I read was already published and telling a story about the past—an editor sees what literature will become, and how can that not be exciting?